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…conscience reveals to us a moral law whose source cannot be found in the natural world, thus pointing to a supernatural Lawgiver. – C. S. Lewis.
The other day I saw a news story about a man who jumped in a river to save a drowning child. He didn’t know the child, but he didn’t even think about it when he saw her—he just dived into the rushing water instantly. Here’s the remarkable thing—he couldn’t swim. But he did his best, and with the help of a few others, he managed to save her. The man, unfortunately, didn’t survive.
Have you ever wondered what makes us do heroic, selfless things like that? There must be a million human stories that tell the tale of highly moral actions with no possible benefit whatsoever to the people who do them. This altruistic impulse in human morality and conscience sets us apart from every other being; confirms the idea of an inner moral compass; and argues strongly for the existence of God.
So we end this series of articles on the human conscience with one of the most direct, powerful and subtle proofs of the existence of a Supreme Being—the argument from conscience.
If you’ve ever seen or visited a Newman Center on a college campus, you already know where this subtle proof of God comes from. The 18th Century British philosopher and Catholic cleric John Henry Newman, who believed that “there is something true in every divinely-revealed religion,” originated the argument, when he said that people will act morally, even when it goes directly against their self-interest. “Because the conscience suggests the existence of objective moral truths,” Newman wrote, “God must exist to give authority to these truths.” If we each have an inner moral compass that points us toward doing the right thing, he reasoned, that compass must always indicate a true magnetic source, a Supreme Being whose moral laws guide and protect humanity.
Because we have a conscience, Newman and many others pointed out, it must come from a Creator.
That Creator, the Baha’i teachings say, gives humanity the essence of morality and conscience in the form of the various religions. All of the great Faiths teach the existence of one God, the immortality of the human soul, the Golden Rule and the same essential moral principles. Each global religion asks its followers to practice love, integrity, kindness, trustworthiness, benevolence, and justice. They all reawaken the collective conscience of humankind:
That which is conducive to the regeneration of the world and the salvation of the peoples and kindreds of the earth hath been sent down from the heaven of the utterance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. Give ye a hearing ear to the counsels of the Pen of Glory. Better is this for you than all that is on the earth. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 222.
The Call of God, when raised, breathed a new life into the body of mankind, and infused a new spirit into the whole creation. It is for this reason that the world hath been moved to its depths, and the hearts and consciences of men been quickened. Erelong the evidences of this regeneration will be revealed, and the fast asleep will be awakened. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 169.
For Baha’is, that’s the essential purpose of religion—to reawaken the conscience of humanity with a new infusion of spiritual grace. True religion should inspire us, regenerate our energies and gives new life to the world of humanity. Baha’u’llah’s new revelation causes intelligence and belief to progress, lays the foundation of a new moral order, delivers humankind from the world of imperfections and immorality, and brings the whole world into alignment under one standard.
The Baha’i teachings call on everyone to carefully consider and respond to that new revelation, which guides the inner moral compass inside of us:
Salutations, blessings, and welcome to that Universal Reality, that Perfect Word, that Manifest Book, that Splendour which hath dawned in the highest heaven, that Guide of all nations, that Light of the world — the billowing ocean of Whose abounding grace hath flooded all creation, in such wise that the waves thereof have cast upon the sands of this visible world their shining pearls. Now hath the Truth appeared, and falsehood fled away; now hath the day dawned and jubilation taken over, wherefore men’s souls are sanctified, their spirits purged, their hearts rejoiced, their minds purified, their secret thoughts made wholesome, their consciences washed clean, their inmost selves made holy: for the Day of Resurrection hath come to pass, and the bestowals of thy Lord, the Forgiving, have encompassed all things. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 38.